• flipboard

8 Strategies To Convert Your Free Social Media Content Into Cash

I have been listening to a free ebook (also available in print..at a small cost.. but more about that later)  from the Chris Anderson called “Free” via podcast on my iPhone over the last few days.

He mentions in his eBook the declining cost of information due to what he calls the “Triple Play” of the digital age.

  1. Processor power doubling every 12 months
  2. Bandwidth increasing at an even faster rate every year due to technology moving Terabits (they are a 1000 times larger than a Megabit) over the same optical fibre instead of just “mere” Megabits
  3. Storage costs dropping at an even faster rate, so that every time January one passes, you can have more storage on our iPhone than our PC had 5 years ago at a fraction of the price

The essence of his book reminded me of an article I had read 12 months ago by Kevin Kelly called “Better Than Free” where he discussed what he believes, are the types of  experiences, services and products that people will be willing to “pay for” in the digital age where the price of information is dropping to Zero, due to the capability of the Web as  a ” Copying Machine” to create, package and deliver information anywhere, anytime for so close to no cost, that it might as well be free.

He said “When copies are super abundant, they become worthless, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable..When copies are free, you need to sell things which cannot be copied”

So what are we giving away for free in Social Media?

  • Unique content on your blog, website and other digital mediums
  • YouTube Videos on how to peel a banana.. or maybe how to use a new “Twitter App”
  • eBooks that tell you how to tune a 1969 Jaguar
  • Podcast on how to Use LinkedIn for networking
  • Webinars in Video, Audio and Text formats that instruct us how to almost do anything  
  • Images on Flickr under “Creative Commons Licence” that I use on my blog posts.. for free
  • Powerpoint presentations on “Slideshare” that  reveal valuable “IP”  (Intellectual Property) that has been developed over decades of blood sweat and tears
  • Whitepapers on how to create an online marketing strategy.   

Why are these given away and for what purpose?  Well may be to

  • Create trust
  • Attract some “attention”
  • Gain credibility
  • Display you and your company as a “thought leader”
  • Position yourself as an authority in your market
  • To be “benevolent”  
  • Because you can
  • You like to share

So, what can’t be copied and can be perceived to be valuable that people are willing to pay for  ?

Here is Kevin Kelly’s take on what people are willing to pay for and why.. he calls them “Generatives”

” A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated, grown, cultivated, nurtured. A generative thing can not be copied, cloned, faked, replicated, counterfeited, or reproduced. It is generated uniquely, in place, over time. In the digital arena, generative qualities add value to free copies, and therefore are something that can be sold”.

So he lists 8 Generatives that can be sold and monetized because they can’t be copied,cloned or faked.

  1. Immediacy — Sooner or later you can find a free copy of whatever you want, but getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released — or even better, produced — by its creators is a generative asset.
  2. Personalization — A generic version of a concert recording may be free, but if you want a copy that has been tweaked to sound perfect in your particular living room — as if it were preformed in your room — you may be willing to pay a lot.
  3. Interpretation — As the old joke goes: software, free. The manual, $10,000. But it’s no joke. A couple of high profile companies, like Red Hat, Apache, and others make their living doing exactly that. They provide paid support for free software.
  4. Authenticity — You might be able to grab a key software application for free, but even if you don’t need a manual, you might like to be sure it is bug free, reliable, and warranted. You’ll pay for authenticity. There are nearly an infinite number of variations of the Grateful Dead jams around; buying an authentic version from the band itself will ensure you get the one you wanted.
  5. Accessibility — Ownership often sucks. You have to keep your things tidy, up-to-date, and in the case of digital material, backed up. And in this mobile world, you have to carry it along with you. Many people, me included, will be happy to have others tend our “possessions” by subscribing to them.
  6. Embodiment — At its core the digital copy is without a body. You can take a free copy of a work and throw it on a screen. But perhaps you’d like to see it in hi-res on a huge screen? Maybe in 3D? PDFs are fine, but sometimes it is delicious to have the same words printed on bright white cottony paper, bound in leather. Feels so good. And nothing gets embodied as much as music in a live performance, with real bodies. The music is free; the bodily performance expensive. This formula is quickly becoming a common one for not only musicians, but even authors. The book is free; the bodily talk is expensive.
  7. Patronage — It is my belief that audiences WANT to pay creators. Fans like to reward artists, musicians, authors and the like with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect. But they will only pay if it is very easy to do, a reasonable amount, and they feel certain the money will directly benefit the creators. Radiohead’s recent high-profile experiment in letting fans pay them whatever they wished for a free copy is an excellent illustration of the power of patronage. The elusive, intangible connection that flows between appreciative fans and the artist is worth something. In Radiohead’s case it was about $5 per download. There are many other examples of the audience paying simply because it feels good.
  8. Findability — Where as the previous generative qualities reside within creative digital works, findability is an asset that occurs at a higher level in the aggregate of many works. A zero price does not help direct attention to a work, and in fact may sometimes hinder it. But no matter what its price, a work has no value unless it is seen; unfound masterpieces are worthless. When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention — and most of it free — being found is valuable. The giant aggregators such as Amazon and Netflix make their living in part by helping the audience find works they love.

So how does Chris Anderson make money using this “Freemium Model”?  He will gain trust, attention, credibility and knowledge leadership via “Free” that will allow him to be highly paid for

  • Personalised consulting to corporations
  • “Embodied” Public speaking
  • “Embodied” copies of his book

So how are you converting “Free” into cash ?

Jeffbullas's Blog


  • I think Anderson’s book is one of the few I’ve read with really meaningful new thinking. Technology has not only created te ability for “free,” it has created an expectation of free and this is presnet vast imlications.

    Nobody really knows how the Radiohead experiment worked, but the band said it would not be repeated. My son is fronting a band (Royal Bangs … now touring Europe) that is loaded with talent and a rapidly growing fan base. They will likely have to depend on getting his music picked up by a movie or TV show to really make money. “People my age expect music for free,” he said. “I expect music for free. Why should my fans be any different?” So essentially he has no hope of ever making money off his actual art.

    It is what it is. But certainly there are vast implications for the arts and for those of us in the blogosphere. What is the sustainability of some of these alternative revenue models? How long can people keep living a life of “free” to achieve the rockstar status needed to be a public speaker or the icon people seek for “authentic” goods? Just how many public speakers does the world really need any way?


  • In the past decade plus we have been a part of, or watched, how information has transformed our lives professionally and privately. The new “Free” is a new concept to a majority of people, but we all love something not is “free” by appearance. Nothing is in fact free, but it also does not always have a cost. It depends on how you consume it. Chris’ information sharing via a blog as an example is free to anyone that is interested (like me). If you are not interested to the same degree, then it is in fact free. Call it patronage or a loss-leader, but as someone that wants to learn more, Chris’ blog is not free. It has created a demand or filled a need that I have for more details…i.e., Chris can help me accomplish a goal I have with what he can share. Perfect marriage of supply and demand.

    Great article. Likely buying the book. Thanks.

  • I agree with Kevin’s view but would suggest one additional generative value which is ‘Time’. Most managers have most of the people to do most of the things they need to do. What they often lack is time to keep abreast of the latest information and time to think through the implications and opportunities it presents. Providing this insight for them becomes a valuable service which can be monetised.



  • Thank you for this thought-provoking and truly useful post.

  • Ralph Schneider

    Thank you for this article, the linkand the discussion.

    So we have this feeling that we want a lot of things for free (moneywise) but also agree on the paradox situation that our logic is telling us that nothing can’t be really for free. Mr. Schaeffers point is good, how long can people stay on a “FREE” business model? And it is not a for FREE business model, the path of money and personal value works has fragmented. Could a future scenario be possible where money becomes a secondary role again? Do you guess that due to other values like time and energy, the old and too soft value money are at there end of live?

  • I have been listening to that book on my iPod at the gym. As Mark mentions above, it is compelling in its logic and fresh take. It is also packed with relevant historical case studies. I appreciate the reminder, Jeff, that I’ve got to get back to that book (and the treadmill too, I guess). The book was a big influence on my latest website project and I would not be surprised to find out that my site has stalled a tiny bit because “it” is waiting for me to finish the book.

  • Jeff – thanks for an excellent post, as always.

    I think the way to create authentic content is not to think about money at all. We all have personal goals, but being passionate, true, and providing unique quality content is important for me. If I am providing something of value, and can be monetized, great! I can never be as focused or as prolific as you (yet), and so I use content to showcase how I think about various issues 🙂

    I wrote a recent post titled : Why Personal branding is your Social Media Hub? Check it out if you have some time. http://ow.ly/11deL


  • Nothing is ever free. There is always a cost of time or something else hidden somewhere. I still wonder how some startups make money. Twitter has value in the data and so does Facebook.

    Writers still need money and so does musicians. The question is how do you transfer it with the new technology?

  • Many simply don’t understand it takes TIME to maintain your social media marketing. Many times businesses may start it but do NOT put in the time to build it.


  • Excellent post and very relevant.
    However, what amazes me is the amount of money that people are prepared to spend on products that promise people to “get rich quick on the internet”.

    Sites that promise it often talk about immediacy, constant and expert help etc and almost promise that the purchaser doesn’t have to do anything to achieve their wealth.

    This seems to be a product (belief) of our times, led by advertisers


  • What a wonderful and affirming post. I agree. This is the model I use and it’s more than I hoped for. I am living proof of the “Freemium Model.”

  • thank you Jeff.

    This is a reminder that I mustn’t remain a “newby” forever. Thanks to informative posts like yours, I have a better understanding of this naturally occurring shift in the value of information.

    Now if you would please excuse me. I have to get on my spin cycle and listen to Chris Anderson’s free ebook!

  • I heard Chris Anderson speak on “Free” two summers ago. It was so true, it gave me gooseflesh. Your take on the topicenergized me all over again.

  • LanaeCEM

    Very insightful article. A lot of folks think just having an online presence is enough to make them $. You remind us how important it is to have a strategy to actually put that content to work.

  • Sue

    The only people making money out of ‘free’ are those that are good at marketing it. Unfortunately for the ‘creators’ that is not everyone. The ‘creators’are often taken advantage of by ‘marketers’.

  • Ash

    Excellent article. Thanks. I have a site about productivity and mindfulness which is free. But I intend to create value products which are personalised to my users. That’s going to be my monetisation strategy.